Set The Course

In last week’s post, I asked the question “Where are you Growing?” At the end of that post, I started writing about setting a personal growth course. I talked about deciding which area of life you wanted to improve, setting a destination (goal), finding a way to measure progress, laying out steps, and then starting. At the very end, I promised to give some examples this week. This post is me fulfilling that promise. I want to write about two kinds of improvement areas.

Concrete Areas

These are areas that are easier to measure and therefore easier to track. The components of these areas are concrete and easily countable.

My youngest daughter, Janessa, came home from school for the long 4th of July weekend. Janessa is a certified personal trainer and is doing that on the side while in school in Arizona. On the way home from the airport, she told us about a client she’s working with. She talked about why this client hired her, what her goals are, and what Janessa is doing to help her reach those goals. Weights and reps and speed on the treadmill, things like that are very easy to measure so goals and progress are also easy to measure.

Weight goals are like that. Say you weigh XX pounds and want to lose 10 pounds. There’s your ready-made destination. It is important to add a by when to that goal.  So, in this example, you want to lose 10 pounds by the end of the month (say that’s 4 weeks away). There’s your area of life (weight/health), your destination (a certain amount by a certain time), and your measurement (pounds and weeks).

Now you need steps. For example, you might decide to cut artificial sugar and saturated fat out of your diet. You might also decide not to eat anything past 7:00 in the evening. Finally, you may want to increase your exercise level. Let’s say you decide to walk 6,000 steps every day. That one would require a pedometer or similar app on your phone, or access to a treadmill that might measure it in distance rather than steps. Another idea is simply to walk for half an hour every day. Simple, right? Now for the important step… start.

Abstract Areas

These are areas like interpersonal skills and relationships. It’s much harder to measure these “soft” skills than it is the more concrete things. But, they are often more important to us than many of those concrete things. If I had to choose between losing 10 pounds and improving a relationship, I’d choose the relationship. But how do you measure “improving a relationship?”

One way to measure relationships is by feedback. Do you have an old friendship, for example, that you wish were closer but the only time you reach out to that person is when you want or need something? Maybe they’ve said that to you or you may just feel that way, but that’s the feedback. So, in this case, the area to improve is that friendship. The destination is feedback something like, “I’m glad we’re back in contact.” What measurement would you use? For this example, you could use the number of contacts per month. Your steps would be to put it on your calendar to call that person two times per month just to say hello and catch up.

What about improving an interpersonal skill like listening? That’s your area. What’s your destination? Maybe it’s feedback like, “Yes! that’s exactly what I mean” more often than not. Or, it could be simply hearing people say, “Thank you for listening,” or, “You’re a good listener.” What do you measure that will get you there? That depends on what your barriers to good listening are.

Three weeks ago I wrote a post called “Who’s Story Is it?” Is one of your barriers to good listening that you interrupt people with your story? If so, you could measure that on your way to improved listening. Ask yourself, “How many times today did I insert my story into someone else’s?” Keep track of that measurement until you consistently reach zero and see how that impacts your listening.

Just like with the concrete areas, the most important step in either of these examples is to start. Take action. You can plot the best course possible but if you don’t put the car in drive or hoist the sails you won’t go anywhere. Someone has said, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Let’s get growing.

Whose Story Is It?

I got a win the other day. I started last week’s post with an epic fail so I decided to start this week off with a win. Also, it’s newsworthy for me to get a win on this topic because I struggle with this one as much as I do with last week’s. After a meeting, an older gentleman came up and began to tell me his life story. It was very interesting. He had wanted to design and built boats but wound up in law enforcement for 35 years. After that, he ran a homeless shelter for 15 years during which time he went to seminary and became an ordained minister. He currently serves as an associate pastor and often sings on the worship team.

Where’s the win? The win is that I got to hear his story because I kept mine out of the conversation. Most people love to talk about themselves. I have a friend who likes to joke, “Enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?” That line is funny because it’s true. We want to talk about ourselves. I started this post with a story about me. Yikes! I didn’t even think about that correlation until now.

Other people’s stories enrich us. In her TED Talk on how to have a good conversation, NPR radio host, Celeste Headlee says, “Be interested in other people. I grew up assuming everyone has some hidden amazing thing about them. I’m a better host because I keep my mouth shut as often as possible, I keep my mind open, and I’m constantly prepared to be amazed. And I’m never disappointed.”

Be Proportional

We have two ears and one mouth. When we interact with people, we should listen at least twice as much as we talk. I’m as guilty as the next person of jumping into someone else’s story to share part of mine. Our minds process what we hear by searching our memory files for similar information or experiences to help us understand and relate. When we find such an experience our tendency, or at least my tendency, is to share it. My intention is to relate with the other person. But, it doesn’t come across that way usually. Usually, it derails the other person. The story isn’t about me, it’s about them and when I jump in with my story it’s more of an interruption than an aid to the conversation.

We relate better by listening than by talking. Listening says, “I’m interested in you.” Talking says, “you should be interested in me.” Next time you’re in a conversation, try holding back, resisting the urge to share your story, and see how it goes. You might get a win like I did.

Be Inquisitive

I’m not suggesting we don’t speak at all during a conversation. In fact, someone has described a good conversation as being like a game of catch. It goes back and forth. The purpose of the conversation will determine how much back and forth is best. Right now I’m talking about a specific kind of conversation, one where you want to hear the details of what the other person is saying. It may be an interview or an investigation. It could be a get-to-know-you conversation of any kind or it may simply be an honorable way to ask, “how was your weekend?”

I wrote a post almost exactly a year ago called “Listen with your mouth.” The most effective use of our mouth in this kind of conversation is to ask questions. Good questions show you’re interested in what the other person is saying. They also help you guide the conversation into what interests you most or what you most need to know. In the conversation I started this post with, I asked that gentleman a couple of probing questions about what he learned from his work with homeless families. It was very enlightening. He eagerly offered his observations and it was information I was interested in. It was also a conscious choice I made when the urge to interject my story came up.

I was recently asked to be part of a mediation conversation between an employee and a manager. On several occasions during that conversation, I asked one or the other, “A moment ago you said … this. Would you explain a little more for me what you meant by that?” Those questions helped guide the conversation to a favorable resolution.

I’m interested in people. I like to hear their stories. When someone is sharing their story with me I’m going to remember whose story it is and be proportional and inquisitive rather than constantly interjecting my story.

Question Yourself to Solutions

I was recently asked a question. “What would you do if you were told that you have to solve this problem by tomorrow or you would lose this 12 Million Dollar contract?” Interesting question. What would you do? I ran across a quote from Albert Einstein that seems appropriate. Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask. For once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.”

Another Einstein quote might illuminate this a bit more. He said, “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Staying with problems longer and spending the first 55 minutes of the critical hour on the proper question tell me that Albert Einstein, a pretty intelligent guy, thought questions were important. In fact, If you’ll indulge me one more quote from the genius, he also said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” So, if we want to find a solution to our problem, we need to ask ourselves the right question. How do you find that?

5 Why’s

In the 1930’s Japanese industrialist, inventor, and founder of Toyota Industries, Sakichi Toyoda, developed the 5 Why’s problem-solving technique. The technique is in the name. You simply define a problem and ask why this problem exists 5 times until you find the appropriate counter-measure to prevent it in the future. The example given in a “Mind Tools” article is this:

Problem: Our client refuses to pay for leaflets we printed for him

Why #1 – the delivery was late so the leaflets couldn’t be used
Why #2 – the job took longer than we expected
Why #3 – we ran out of printer ink
Why #4 – the ink was all used on a larger, last-minute order
Why #5 – we didn’t have enough ink in stock and couldn’t order supplies in time.

Counter-Measure: find an ink supplier who can deliver at short notice so that we can continue to minimize inventory, reduce waste, and respond to customer demands.

Who?

In his book, Developing The Leader Within You 2.0, John Maxwell suggests six questions that will help us solve problems. Four of them are “who” questions. He calls them:

  • The Information question – Who knows the most about this problem? Don’t jump to conclusions or start “solving” the problem before you understand it as fully as possible.
  • The Experience question – Who knows what I need to know? “He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a mentor.” –playwright Ben Johnson. Is there someone who can mentor you through this problem?
  • The Challenge question – Who wants to tackle this problem? Who can do this is a good question. Who wants to do this, is a better one. The want to will often give a person an edge in finding solutions.
  • The Magnitude question – Who needs to buy in, and how long will that take? Often solutions have an impact on people’s work and lives. The bigger the problem, the more potential impact the solution may have. What pre-work do we need to do in preparing people for the solution?

What?

Maxwell’s sixth question is “What questions do I need to ask myself?” The other day I decided to do an experiment. I called it “Running the Interrogatives.” I defined a problem and then I listed the six main English interrogatives: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. I began to mentally list as many “who” questions as I could about that problem. Then I did the same with”what” questions and so on.

Forcing myself to think of different questions under each interrogative made me look at the problem from different angles. One simple example is “Who contributed to creating this problem?” versus “Who is most impacted by this problem?” Those are almost opposite points of view. Then you have Maxwell’s four “who” questions and so on.

I began to understand why Einstien said he would spend so much of his critical hour searching for the proper question. Leaders tend to be action-oriented. Maybe great leaders pause to understand the question before offering an answer.

Using the Speed Gap Trap to Your Advantage

Last week I listed one of 7 barriers to good listening as “The Speed Gap Trap.” I called it that because of the gap between the speed of speech and the speed of thought. I called it a trap because it’s in that gap that most good listening gets stuck. Most often people don’t listen well because their minds wander while the other person is talking or because they use the gap to plan their reply.

Bonus Brain Time

There is a completely opposite way to look at the speed gap. It can be listening’s worsts enemy, or it can be listening’s greatest ally. What makes the difference? Intentionality. You can learn to use the gap to your listening advantage.

Before we go any further, I want to try an experiment with you. Think about a red balloon . . . What came to mind? Was it a big hot air balloon or a smaller helium filled birthday party balloon? Now, think about a green chair . . . Did you have a specific chair that came to mind or did you imagine one? It doesn’t matter. The point of the experiment is to show that you can choose what you think about. If you followed the instructions, you directed your mind to a red balloon and a green chair, and you did it in no time at all. You’re pretty amazing!

What you are experiencing now is something called meta-cognition. That’s a fancy word for thinking about your thinking. You have the ability to examine your thought processes while they’re occurring. Think about that. If you apply that ability while you are listening, you can turn “The Speed Gap Trap” into what I call “Bonus Brain Time.” Use the speed gap to think about your listening and direct your thinking to focus on the speaker.

Putting Bonus Brain Time to Work

Try an exercise. During your next conversation, practice being aware of how you are listening. First, pay attention to your own posture and attention. Are you giving eye contact? Are you listening to what is being said or are you planning what you will say next? One signal that you are planning what to say next instead of listening is the urge to interrupt. If you feel that, you are more than likely not listening as well as you could.

Next, pay attention to the person talking. What words are they using? What are their body language and facial expressions saying to you? I call this listening with your ears and listening with your eyes. How do the things they are saying come together to form a picture (listening with your brain)? How do you feel about what you’re hearing (listening with your gut)? Does it strike you as authentic? Is there any prejudice on your part that would lead you to believe one way or another?

After the conversation is over, make some notes. How did you do? What did you learn about the person who was talking? Even more, what did you learn about your listening? Yourself as a listener? Practice that same process over and over. It will be very useful as you develop your listening skills.

7 Barriers to Good Listening

At work we often talk about “Barriers.” They are those things, people, rules, policies, etc. that “prevent movement, or access, or progress.” In a coaching conversation, for example, you might ask, “have you experienced any barriers to meeting the expectation?” In other words, “is there anything outside or within your control that has prevented you from achieving the desired result?” In their book, The Oz Principle, authors Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman write about overcoming barriers to achieve results as part of being accountable.

We have a 9 month old puppy named Zuzu. It appears that one of her primary goals in life is to overcome barriers. While we were training her to go outside, we placed various barriers at entrances to rooms with carpeting or a rug and to keep her in the family room with us which has a tile floor. Mind you, Zuzu is a 5 pound puppy. It has been incredibly entertaining to watch her find ways to get beyond those barriers. She uses her nose, her paws, her teeth, whatever she can, to move (thankfully never destroy ) any barrier.

We’ve been talking this month about Listening. There are many potential barriers to good listening. One of them is he belief that because we hear, we listen. Hearing is part of listening, but only part. Listening, as I’ve written about elsewhere, is a full contact sport.

There are several other barriers to good listening. Here are a few of them:

The Speed Gap Trap

This refers to the difference in the speed at which people speak and the speed at which we can process speech. Most of the time, people speak at a rate of about 125 words per minute. But, we can hear at a rate of 500 – 800 words per minute. What happens to all that extra time? That’s where the untrained listener’s mind wanders, they lose concentration and wind up being accused of not listening.

The Vapor Effect

Hearing is the most ephemeral of senses. Sounds are vibrations. Once the vibration is over, it’s gone. That’s why we take notes or make audio recordings of lectures in school. That’s also why its a good idea to take notes during certain conversations. Because, if we don’t make some concerted effort to retain the words that have been spoken, they won’t last any longer than the vibration that carried them.

The Me Focus

“Self-Centered” means to be preoccupied with oneself and one’s own affairs. Often when we are in conversation our focus is us. What do I want to gain from this discussion? What do I want to say next? How can I prove my point? Again, this speaks to how we use our Bonus Brain Time. If my focus in our conversation is me, what are the chances I’ll ever reach super-power listening skills?

Now, there is a difference between being self-centered and being self-aware, a huge difference. Self awareness is linked to “Meta-cognition” which is something we’ve talked more about in another post. Basically it means “Thinking about our thinking.” For our topic we could say it means, “Thinking about our listening as we’re doing it.” This self-awareness is a powerful tool for developing our listening skills. Self-Centeredness is the opposite.

Some other barriers to good listening include:

Prejudice – If we have preconceived ideas about the other person, their motives, position on a topic, or anything else, it will inhibit our ability to listen to them.

Stress – is like static in our brain and blocks out other people.

Anger – is similar to stress in its effect. When we’re angry, even if it’s not with the person who is speaking, the emotion blocks our ability to listen.

Distractions – seems pretty basic, but background noise, cell phones, TV, etc are kryptonite to super-power listening.

There are many other possible barriers to listening. How many can you think of? Understanding the barriers to good listening goes a long way in helping us get better at listening if we act like Zuzu and find a way past those barriers.

Listen With Your Mouth

Several years ago our family was out to dinner with some friends. At one point during the meal their daughter said, “Hey everybody, Look!” When we all looked, we saw that she had put her earbuds in her nose and right when she had all our attention, she opened her mouth and we could hear music coming out of her mouth like a speaker. It was hilarious. But that’s not what I mean by listening with your mouth.

Listening with your mouth is more like the question I left you with last week, “What’s your story?” You listen with your mouth when you use your mouth to encourage the other person to speak or to speak more.

How to H.E.A.R.

There is an acronym that can help to remember the key elements or steps to good listening. I included this in a post in January of last year. The acronym is HEAR. Two of the four elements, interestingly, involve our mouths.

H is for hush. We have two ears and one mouth. But, we often use them in reverse proportion. We often talk more than we listen. The first step in Hearing someone and certainly in listening is to close our mouths. We can’t listen when we’re talking. Hush also refers to quieting some of the internal barriers to listening like prejudice against a person or idea.

E is for Empathize. Put our autobiographical responses on hold until we’ve heard the other person’s story from their point of view. There is a difference between Sympathy – sharing the speaker’s feelings (we’re not trying to do this) and Empathy – understand the speaker’s feelings (we are trying to do this) (E can also be for “Evaluate” when listening must be critical)

A is for Ask. I wrote more about this in a later post. But, questions are the most useful communication tools we have. The first rule of good listening responses is when in doubt, ask. The presidents association of New York once estimated that good questions increase our comprehension and retention by about 15%.

R is for Reflect. I also devoted another post to this. But, good listening responses reflect the speaker’s meaning like a mirror. How? Repeat and rephrase what you hear. It’s the most basic kind of feedback. You’re simply feeding back the speakers meaning to check for understanding. It is often easier to react than to reflect.

Initiating the Story

When you want to know someone’s story you have to get them talking. How do you do that? You could start with, “What about this weather?” I grew up part of my young life in Michigan where an apt reply would by, “Yeah, but wait 15 minutes and it will change” followed by the laughter of shared experience. While that gets the person talking, it doesn’t get you into their story.
You may want to try some of these conversation [story] starters:

  • “What are the top three things on your bucket list?”
  • “If you could ask for a miracle, what would it be?”
  • “What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?”
  • “Who has been the most influential person in your life?”
  • “What’s the most memorable lesson you learned from your parents?”

You can find 220 more possibilities here.

Going Deeper into the Story

Listening to someone tell their story is like viewing a picture. At one point in the conversation the picture may be like a sepia toned, old, faded snapshot. A little more information may add color and clarity to the picture. Still more information gives the picture 3 dimensions until at some point the picture begins to move. Even more information and you’ve stepped behind the eyes of your storyteller and are seeing the world through them. That’s Super Power Listening.

How do you get the additional information? With your mouth. Use questions to tease out the color, depth, movement, and emotion of the story. But make sure your questions are open ended. For example, instead of asking, “Were you angry?” which requires only a yes or no answer, ask “How did you feel?” That invites the speaker to volunteer more about their emotions.

Examples of other open ended questions include:

  • “Can you tell me more about that?”
  • “Why did you/they do that?”
  • “What’s next?”
  • “What’s the most important thing about that?”
  • “How did they feel about that?”

You see, it’s not only possible to listen with your mouth, if you want to get to SuperPower Listening, it’s necessary.

What’s Your Story?

I often find myself filled with wonder at the thought of how many stories there are in the world. Sometimes in traffic, other times driving through a neighborhood, I wonder what’s the story of the person in that car? Where are they going? Why? Are they happy about it? What’s their life been like to this point? Or the people who live in that house, what is the novel of their life?

John Holmes said, “It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.” As of April 2020, according to the most recent United Nations estimates, there are 7.8 billion people living on the planet. That’s 7.8 billion other stories! What an overwhelming thought!

As I write this there are demonstrations/riots going on in not less than 30 cities across the country. Those events were sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died as a result of his treatment by a white police officer in Minneapolis. During the television coverage, reporters repeatedly ask demonstrators, “Why are you here, what’s your message to America?” The message of the sincere protesters is similar to the one after Rodney King in L.A., and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and others. These things keeps happening, I suggest, at least in part because no one is really listening.

Listening with Your Hands and Feet

When someone says, “I just don’t feel heard,” they usually don’t mean they are uncertain their voice has caused the other person’s eardrums to record sound. They usually mean the person hasn’t done anything in response to what they’ve said. People say, “No one ever listens” at work, for example, because they believe no one follows up, nothing ever gets done. Are they right?

While serving as the interim director of an international school in China it was brought to my attention that our local Chinese staff felt they were not being treated fairly in their compensation. I met with the staff members and decided to do some research. I met with local government agencies, a local attorney, business leaders of Chinese companies in the city and other Chinese educators to find out what the compensation packages were like for their employees. I learned that our packages were competitive. With the exception of one adjustment regarding housing allowance for married couples where both worked at the school, we made no changes to the compensation.

When I met with the staff to discuss my findings they accepted the outcome. What was interesting to me was not that they accepted the outcome but they accepted it with gratitude. They expressed appreciation that I had listened to them. Though it wasn’t the outcome they may have hoped for, they felt respected because I had listened and taken the time to research their concern. The reason they knew I had listened was because I had taken action and followed up with them. I call that listening with your hands and feet.

SuperPower Listening

“Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.” That’s how I describe what I call “Superpower Listening.” What would the world be like if we could all see it through the eyes of others?

It’s a similar idea to the Native American proverb:

“Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”

When I Googled that proverb to be sure I had the wording right, I ran across an unexpected source for a similar idea. If you’re a big Elvis fan it may not be as unexpected to you. But I didn’t remember an Elvis song called “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” Here’s a recording of that song with a brief intro by Elvis.

We can’t walk a mile in 7.8 billion pairs of shoes. But we can walk a mile in a few. In order to walk a mile in my shoes or see the world through my eyes, you need to know my story. SuperPower listening is engaging with someone well enough and long enough to learn their story. “Their story” is made up of episodes and one story is never the whole story. But, episodes build upon each other and reveal more and more of the person’s view of the world. It takes time and effort. It may also call upon you to take some action. Sadly, most people are not willing to put in the time and effort or are unwilling to be called upon for action to sincerely ask the question,

What’s your story?

Listen Linda!

“OK. Listen, listen, listen, Linda, just listen,” pleads then 3-year-old Mateo when debating with his mom over whether or not he should get a cupcake. If you haven’t seen this video, watch it here. Mom replies, “You’re not listening to me.” To which Mateo immediately retorts, “Because your not listening to me!” Wow! What a perfect representation of what’s wrong with so much communication. Ellen DeGeneres lunched the video to viral status when she had the Mom and son team on her show. The video is cute and Mateo is very articulate. But, I wonder if at least one reason it became so popular (no shade to Ellen) is that people everywhere (not just parents and kids) could relate to the issue it unveiled, No one is listening!

Last month I wrote about Organizational Communication. But a message sent is not communication unless it is received and understood. That requires listening. In fact, I would argue that listening is the most important element in effective communication (we have two ears, after all, and only one mouth). Well-known broadcaster, Celeste Headlee, in her famous TED Talk “How to Have a Good Conversation,” (over 5,000,000 views) says listening is the most important skill you can develop. She supports this claim with a quote from Buddha, “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.”

Even though we spend a around a quarter of our time speaking and just over half our time listening (a 2:1 ratio), the following are true:

  • 87% of Married couples identify poor communication as their major problem … why? Because, “My Spouse Doesn’t Listen to me”
  • Surveys of workers rate “Good Listening” as a manager’s most important attribute, and, In a study of half the Fortune 500 companies, 2/3 of employees said “Good Listening” was a skill their managers most often lacked.
  • Management surveys have identified the most vital and neglected skill for college graduates entering the workforce as “the ability to listen and follow directions.”
  • One study estimated that 60% of corporate communication problems can be blamed on poor listening.

So, why don’t we listen?

Celeste Headlee suggests two reasons. First, she says, “we’d rather be talking.” When we’re talking, we’re in control. We don’t have to hear things we’re not interested in, we’re the center of attention, so we can bolster our own identity. The other reason Headlee offers is that we’re distracted. She mentions the fact that we can speak at about 125 words per minute but we can listen at between 500 and 800 words per minute. Our minds fill in the extra words. I call this “Bonus Brain Time” in my Listening course.

Because of Bonus Brain Time, it takes a lot of work and discipline to listen. That’s another reason we’re not so good at it. We either have not learned how to discipline ourselves or we’re not willing to put in the work.

I’ll offer one final reason we don’t listen well. We’re selfish. Let me put it in the words of Stephen Covey, who said it much more eloquently.

“Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand, we listen with the intent to reply.”

I guess Celeste made the same point when she said, “We’d rather be talking.” We’re more interested in making our point than in understanding the point of another.

So, why should we listen?

For one reason, it’s the Loving thing to do. Love in any context is caring more about the other person’s well being than about your own. It’s what makes a great boss, a great lover, a great friend. If love is caring about the other person, what better way to show you care than to listen? Sometimes, that’s all the other person wants anyway.

Another reason to listen, it makes you more interesting. It’s true. If people, in general, like to talk about themselves, which we do, then we tend to find those who are more interested in us to be more interesting to us. Become that one-in-a-million listener and you’ll be the most interesting person many people know. Granted, it’s a little more selfish reason to listen, but it’s a reason.

I’ll offer one more reason to listen. You are far more likely to be amazed. Though we may like to talk about ourselves, the truth is, we know our story. Other people are often far more interesting to us. Celeste Headlee made this point in her video as well. She said she grew up believing everyone had some hidden amazing thing about them. She believes she is a better radio host because she keeps her mouth shut as much as possible, she keeps her mind open, and she is constantly prepared to be amazed. “And,” she said, “I’m never disappointed.”

This month we’re still talking about communication. But, more broadly than just organizational communication, and with a focus on the most critical part of communication, listening.

Make Lemonade

A few days ago I posted on facebook about an experience my wife Suzi and I had while taking an evening walk. Here’s the content of that post.

“I just got back from an evening walk with my lovely bride. We’ve never seen as many people out on the walking trail near our house as we did tonight. Families and neighbors out walking together, walking their dogs, riding bikes. People were smiling and greeting each other like actual neighbors! Could a silver lining of the COVID-19 cloud include a chance for families and neighbors to slow down and connect? We hope so. It seemed like it this evening. May that increase!!”

I received several comments on that post all saying that similar things were happening in their areas. Those are examples of people making lemonade. I watched a video recording of what John Maxwell presented live streamed on Sunday, March 22nd called “Leading Through a Crisis.” (I highly recommend following the link and watching all 4 of the presentations) In that presentation, John said that a crisis is a distraction. Distraction is the opposite of traction. Traction is when you gain ground and make progress forward. Crises pull us away and confuse our priorities.

He went on to say that nothing will cause you more anxiety than trying to control what you can’t control. When life throws lemons at you, make lemonade. Leaders help people regain traction during distraction.

I know the COVID-19 crisis is causing a lot of anxiety for people. Make some lemonade!

Listen to Christmas

This is the Monday before Christmas, 2019. What are you thinking about? If you’re like me, you’re thinking about a lot of things. One of the things on my mind is this post. What should I write about? I decided to see what I wrote about last year at this time, so I went back and discovered last year’s pre-Christmas post came out on Christmas eve. I didn’t write anything about the holiday. I wrote about “Barriers to Good Listening.” It was part of a series on “Listening: The Super-Power You Didn’t Know you Have.” You can find the posts listed on my “Posts By Category” page at engagerdynamics.com.

Listening seems like an appropriate topic for our thinking at this time of year. We “listen” to our family and friends, for example, when they tell us what they want for Christmas. Our son Justin’s Christmas list is a much anticipated piece of holiday literature each year. It’s a humorous proclamation of his “demands” with corresponding “consequences” should they not be met. If you knew Justin, you’d get how funny such an approach is.

My point is that we demonstrate how we’ve listened by the actions we take about those Christmas wishes. I call it Listening with Your Hands and Feet. What I’m thinking about now is, What does Christmas want from you? Strange question? Maybe. We hear a lot about “The Magic of Christmas” and “Christmas Miracles.” I believe the things we put into those categories are the result of someone’s answer to my question. This season asks something from us. As a person of faith, I think of it as “The Reason for the Season–Jesus” who is doing the asking. Whether you’re a person of faith or not, this season asks us to change our attitudes and actions.

As we wrap up the possibly frenetic activities leading into Wednesday, Christmas Day, let me challenge you to listen to the season. What does it want from you? I encourage you further to listen with your hands and feet.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!